Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Predatory Publishing Contracts

If you're a writer, you may have seen the internet heat up this past week over issues taken up with a few Random House e-book imprints which several high-profile writing organizations called foul. The best, and most heroic example goes to science fiction writer John Scalzi, one of my husband's favorite authors. See his blog post here for how he dealt directly with Random House and their contracts, representing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He represented many of us as well, whether we knew it or not.

The issue? The publishing contracts for Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt, each representing different genre fiction, were so limiting to authors, it is downright insulting that they came from a big-name NYC publishing house. Now, I'm no expert in contracts, but when I see a written agreement that includes no advance payment to the author, a 50/50 split of royalties AFTER a muddled clause about subtracting fees for costs that may or may not include promotion, marketing, set-up fees, and even printing fees, with lifetime ownership of the copyright, I think SCAM. If you are curious on details, please read Scalzi's blog post because it's fantastic. His outrage gave me chills!

Basically, what is the point of signing a contract with all these stipulations when so many legitimate avenues for self-publishing exist? It's the Random House "x" imprint name. That's it. You are paying--and paying dearly--for the name, but you aren't getting the same level of services a more legit Random House contract offers. This is the sad-sack, gather-in-the-soup-line, stale bread hand-out version of a real publishing contract. And authors deserve better.

Why this is so concerning is how many people might see the Random House name attached to the imprint and assume the contract is fair. From my limited experience in this industry, one thing I know solidly: a LOT of people want to see their book published, to the point they will take desperate, or ignorant actions. Of course,  if you heard someone say "pay me $10,000 and I'll publish your book," you would run, right? RIGHT? A Big NYC publisher putting out such junk as bait for over-eager writers is simply wrong.

Random House has since amended the contracts, which is a partial victory for writers given that making noise can spark change. But, the contract still doesn't seem awesome, and you have to wonder what other slop publishing houses will push on unsavvy writers going forward.

I'm so grateful to my RWA chapter for linking Scalzi's blog post in our yahoo group, and days later, Romance Writers of America contacted Random House to discuss the contracts (Loveswept and Flirt) to better inform the authors they represent. All this to say, know what you are signing, and align yourself with professionals who know the industry.

What do you think about this situation?


  1. My post about all of this, which I wrote over the weekend (and has had to be updated three times, now), will be up for tomorrow.

    In short, though, I agree with the "the author gets paid first" part, so, although Random House has taken a step, I don't think it was a big enough step.

    Also, the fact that they want to own you forever really bothers me.

    1. I'll check that out tomorrow. I would rather not be published than sign a bad contract. I felt the same way back when I was home buying and was offered ridiculous loan options for amounts that were far out of my price range with variable interest rates. I'd rather rent than sign that mess.

    2. It's why I self-published. I didn't feel like spending years wading through all of that mess.

  2. While everyone's publication journey is different, it seems like if you're willing to sign up with a digital-only publishing imprint anyway, you might as well self-publish and keep all the money yourself. We're assuming Flirt/Hydra/etc. will market a book more than a self-published author will. If an author wants to take self-publishing seriously, it would probably be better (and more dignified) to sell a smaller number of books, but keep a larger amount of your profit.

  3. What also had me concerned was that they keep our rights. Permanently. (Unless this has now changed) Like everyone has mentioned, you're better off self publishing. All they've done is reduced some of your tasks (like formatting), but you'll still be responsible for most of the same stuff that a self published author has to deal with.

  4. I'll echo everyone else on here -- a big part of my decision to self-pub was the ability to keep all rights to my work. I can choose when to upload it, where to upload it, to rewrite it, change the cover, whatever. It's up to me. I like that flexibility, even if it means compromising reach/income.

  5. I'm sharing this. Not too long ago, buying the legitimate name of a publisher might have been a somewhat thought-through investment. But independent publishing has made huge strides in respectability and readership, plus the author 1) retains control and 2) retains $s.

  6. Hi. Thank you for this post. Had heard something similar...now on high alert. About to seek traditional publishing for my YA, so find this alarming. A good agent and scouring the SCBWI site would prevent bad contract, right? Sign me up as a new follower. I'll be back for the A-Z. Come check out mine:)


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